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The great Indian election drama

Last update - Thursday, May 7, 2009, 00:38 By Priya Rajsekar

A youthful and tech-savvy electorate is making demands like never before, as 400 million Indians go to the polls. PRIYA RAJSEKAR reports

From broad-sweeping promises of good governance to ‘here and now’ pre-election goodie bags of rice and new clothes, the great Indian election drama has been seeing it all. The world’s largest democratic process has something for everyone: amazing statistics, thrilling suspense and unmatched human interest tales – such as election officers walking for days to reach polling booths, a whole village abstaining to avenge politicians’ apathy, and even Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, proclaiming forgiveness for her father’s killers in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Shoes abound as well, emerging as a popular brickbat thanks to the ‘George W Bush vs shoe-thrower’ fiasco. Not surprisingly, the world continues to be awed by this resilient democracy and its humongous electoral process. Even the hard-to-please Hillary Clinton has expressed her appreciation at the way India is conducting its elections where about 400 million of the 700-million-strong electorate are expected to vote.
As I write, the drama is approaching its climax. The destiny of a nation more under the global spotlight than ever before will soon be in the hands of a ruling Congress-led alliance or the main opposition-led coalition headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Since the 1970s, when former Prime Minister Indra Gandhi first used the basic promises of food, clothing and shelter as her election slogan, India’s electorate has come a long way. The younger voters, in particular, now believe they have a right to expect much more from their leaders. From assured job prospects and world-class infrastructure to a priority for national security, they want it all, and refuse to be swept away by sky-high promises that are rarely kept.
Caste politics, too, is losing its shine with the young voters of India, and a recent magazine poll revealed that caste-based discrimination in education or employment may be on its way out.
The recent Mumbai attacks have been a loud wake-up call as well. Out of the dying embers and gun-fire that killed hundreds of innocent people, has risen the resolute will of India’s youth who feel more needs to be done to quash acts of mindless, indiscriminate terrorism.
Young people are galvanising the internet through emails, blogs, social networking and even texting, a medium more accessible to the local farmer or the neighbourhood milkman to get people to vote and vote right this time. No doubt, power-hungry politicians are taking notice.  And why not? Around two-thirds of India’s population is under 35 years of age.

Like many Indians, I received my share of emails too, including one that reminded me of the 49-O section of the Conduct of Election rules, 1961. In brief, the section deals with the right of the voter to express his dissatisfaction with all of the candidates he has to choose from by choosing ‘none of the above’ and putting his thumb impression or signature against such a choice. If anything, it is believed exercising the right to express disapproval is a far better choice than abstaining.
It seems that this time round, there is an increased awareness and responsibility among the country’s citizens and a rising desire to ensure that India’s leadership consolidates her position on the global map. In a way, India is waiting for its Obama phenomenon as well – a man or woman with charisma and integrity, a person who can put the country and its people above self and everything else. Soon, all will be revealed.

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer

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